We are on a rare city break in Marrakech. Whilst my first instinct is to charge around the city, we needed R’n’R. I’m currently on the roof of our riad and the wonderful smell of cumin is drifting across the early evening air as the BBQ’s are fired up.
As we walked around the Jemma El Fna square today the music was mostly low grade gnawa, with pipes and drums which accompanied the snake charmers and orange juice sellers. The hawkers in the souks were peddling the usual tourist tat. I’m sure there is more out there musically but for this visit we are not going to even scratch the surface.
We are heading to the new city tonight for a recommended Moroccan restaurant, Al Fassia which is run by a women’s co-operative – should be good.
Whilst we were in Marrakech, we did some background reading. It revealed that the “love and peace” era of the late sixties in the city wasn’t the altruistic dream that the received wisdom has us believe.
The Beatles, Stones and other assorted hippies that hung out at the time contributed little to the local economy. They took the exotica of the area and zoned out. Encouraged by the early arty tourists to Tangiers, Peter Bowles and William Burroughs, they joined the Gettys in a round of endless partying.
The Getty’s on the roof of their riad, photographed by Patrick Lichfield. The minaret in the background is the Koutoubia mosque close to our hotel.
An entry in John Hopkin’s “Tangiers Diaries” from 1 January 1968 reads as follows:
“Last night Paul and Talitha Getty threw a New Year’s Eve party at their palace in the Medina. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were there, flat on their backs. They couldn’t get off the floors, let alone talk.“
Tellingly, the encyclopaedic Beatles book by Ian McDonald, “Revolution In The Head”, (previously mentioned here) there is not one mention of Marrakech. No significant Beatles songs were written there. The song with the most associations of the era Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Marrakech Express” is lyrically a load of nonsense. “Seeing ducks and pigs and chickens” – there are few ducks in Morocco and no pigs in this Muslim country.
Most tellingly, they were in Morocco during the most heavy handed and repressive time in the country’s recent history. It is now called Les Annees de Plomb – the “years of lead”. The army killed over 1000 people after riots in 1965 in Casablanca and the University in Rabat was closed after strikes in 1972. There were two failed coups and the era was only ended after a spell of resurgent nationalism encouraged by the monarchy.
The hippies never connected with this and those celebrities with connections to the media never voiced any outrage as to the activities of the authorities. They just partied hard.
One Western musician who does appear to at least acknowledge Africa and Asian musicians and will work with and promote them is Robert Plant. I remembered this from the Page and Plant Unledded era in 1994.
As I said, I dare say I’ll be back at some stage to explore further but for now, au revoir.